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5.0 out of 5 stars Review of Criterion 2-disc DVD edition, April 9, 2005
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This review is from: Kagemusha (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)
KAGEMUSHA is the great 1980 drama involving a clan of 16th-Century Japanese warlords who want to deceive their enemies by having a common thief impersonate their murdered leader. This is a thought-provoking film about reality and illusion, as well as a visually inviting work filled with many striking scenes and compositions that Kurosawa films are known for. A memorable 6-minute opening shot of three identical-looking men, an elaborate dream sequence, and a harrowing montage of the aftermath of the final battle are among some of Kurosawa's finest moments in his long film career. Lead actor Tatsuya Nakadai was only in his 40s when he made KAGEMUSHA, playing a much older man and effectively conveying the guile and conflicted feelings of the imposter. Nakadai would also play the lead role in Kurosawa's next film, RAN, 5 years later, again unrecognizably playing a much older man.

Criterion has released the definitive video edition for KAGEMUSHA: a Region-1, 2-disc DVD of the uncut, 180-minute version of film. The anamorphic widescreen video quality is generally very good, except for some occasional graininess. The original Japanese audio is in Dolby Digital 4.0 surround (3 front, and 1 mono rear channels), although surround effects are infrequently used.

The best supplement on the disc is Stephen Prince's full-length audio commentary, which, due to the film's length, is able to elaborate on many topics in great details. Much of Prince's narration (I would say half of it) is more on the historical background of the film's period than the filmmaking and art of the film. He compares certain plot details against historical facts to show how Kurosawa uses his artistic license to convey his own ideas. Regarding the film itself, he emphasizes that this is an atypical Kurosawa film in that its hero tries to conform to the prevailing social order, unlike the nonconformist rebels and outcasts in past films such as SEVEN SAMURAI or YOJIMBO. On the film's artistry, he observantly points out that in a film about illusions, many of the key events in the plot are aptly NOT shown on screen. He also provides a great analysis on Kurosawa's most elaborate dream sequence.

Prince also does a good job of pointing out the differences between the shortened, 162-min international version and this 180-min uncut version. The longer version does not have "20 minutes of footage involving Kenshin Uesugi", as misreported at IMDB. The added scenes are, in fact, merely short, trimmed scenes and shots that are sprinkled all over the film. They add to the overall continuity, without altering anything in the main plot line. A majority of the added scenes are just too trivial to mention or to even notice. The few noteworthy ones include a much longer montage of the aftermath of the final battle, and a wholly added scene where the fake Shingen is being examined by the Jesuit priest physician -- this scene also has the great Takashi Shimura's only appearance in the film, seen for the first time on this DVD by viewers outside of Japan.

For Kurosawa fans, the second best feature on the disc is perhaps the collection of impressionistic paintings by Kurosawa that were later used by him as storyboards for the film. In a 41-minute segment called "Image: Kurosawa's Continuity", hundreds of such paintings are shown, accompanied by sound clips from the films. In a still gallery section called "A Vision Realized", there are about 20 of the paintings placed side by side with still photos from the film. Many of these same paintings are also reprinted on the 45-page booklet that comes with this DVD.

The booklet also include 3 wonderful essays. As is usually the case, Criterion took the effort of including different writings that don't duplicate one another. One essay deals with the film itself, its art and its history. Another one is a Sight-and-Sound interview with Kurosawa. The third one covers Kurosawa himself biographically.

The disc also comes with a well-made 41-minute making-of documentary that is comprised of mostly interviews, stills, and clips from KAGEMUSHA. It's part of a 2003 series called "Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create" (other episodes of this series are available on Criterion DVDs of IKIRU, THE LOWER DEPTHS, and STRAY DOG). In Japanese with optional English subtitles, it has interview segments of the cast and crew, including Kurosawa, Nakadai, Kota Yui (the child actor, who is now grown up), and others. They recount the challenges they faced, the artistic and technical choices they made, and a few amusing anecdotes.

Also included are trailers, a few whiskey commercials Kurosawa made on the set of KAGEMUSHA (other than the monetary reasons for which they were made, there is nothing special about these commercials), and a 20-minute interview segment with George Lucas and Francis Coppola, who praise Kurosawa's genius and lament that the film business often doesn't accommodate non-commercial films, even those by great directors.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 28, 2006 3:14:54 PM PDT
keviny01 says:
Anyone has a list of differences between the short and long versions of the film?
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